El Faro conditions probed in final U.S. hearing on sinking

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By Letitia Stein

<span class="articleLocation”>The U.S. investigation into the deadly sinking
of a cargo ship during a 2015 hurricane entered its final
hearing on Monday, with ship conditions probed at the start of
two weeks of testimony set to examine new detail on El Faro’s
last hours.

The Coast Guard’s Marine Board of Investigation, convened
only for the most serious accidents, is looking for evidence of
negligence or misconduct in the worst disaster involving a
U.S.-flagged vessel in more than three decades.

All 33 crew onboard died when the 790-foot (241-meter) El
Faro sank during a hurricane on Oct. 1, 2015, two days after
leaving Jacksonville, Florida on a cargo run to Puerto Rico.

Investigators on Monday questioned Captain Raymond Thompson,
former chief mate on the El Faro, asking about issues from crew
fatigue and cargo lashings to an anemometer measuring wind
speed.

Authorities meeting in Jacksonville now have key information
about the ship’s final hours from its voyage data recorder that
had not been recovered when the panel held two rounds of
hearings last year.

Transcripts from the recordings showed Captain Michael
Davidson’s uncertainty about the storm’s location. The veteran
mariner from Maine told his chief mate he was receiving
conflicting reports hours before the alarm sounded to abandon
ship.

Concerns about delays in the weather reports reaching the El
Faro came up at the panel’s previous hearings.

Ultimately, the Coast Guard panel expects to issue a report
that could make recommendations to prevent another disaster,
though the agency has no timeline for its release. The National
Transportation Safety Board is also participating in the
hearings.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty about the cause of the
sinking,” said maritime lawyer Rod Sullivan, who represents the
family of a deceased crew member and has closely followed the
investigation.

He questioned efforts to get the crew into life-saving
equipment. Discussion of lifeboats is scheduled for next week.

During earlier hearings, executives of Tote Services, which
managed the El Faro, called the disaster a tragic accident.

The company has settled financially with 28 families, Tote
said in a statement, declining details.

“Since the loss of the El Faro, we have focused every effort
on supporting the families of those on board. An important part
of this support has entailed reaching fair and swift legal
settlements for those who may choose them,” Tote said in a
statement last week.



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